How can workplace health equity lead to a fair and just society?

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Health equity has become a cross-sector priority around many parts of the globe over the past several years, highlighting the role that each organization should play in helping create a society in which each person has the opportunity to live a healthy life. Business leaders and other employers across industries, sectors, and geographies around the world have the potential to help impact change – especially in addressing health disparities within the workforce.

As laid out in the Global Health Equity Network’s Business Case for Health Equity, there can be enormous implications for inequitable workforce health. In Africa, ill health and premature mortality cost the continent nearly $3 trillion in 2015. In the United States, there are roughly $320 billion in excess medical costs each year due to health disparities. These statistics do not account for the impact of lost productivity from poor health and workplace injuries on business outcomes. For example, studies have estimated that employees face a 21.5% productivity loss if they experience depression, and a 13% productivity loss if they experience chronic pain. Even worse, 2.78 million people worldwide die annually in workplace-related accidents.

Addressing these challenges by considering employees’ holistic health and well-being can lead to more productive, healthy, and engaged teams across organizations. In turn, companies can improve recruitment and retention, drive market success, and protect their long-term sustainability and resilience.

The result of concerted action can not only be transformative for employers – it can also have a huge impact on society. Optimizing the workplace can help create equitable opportunities for each person to live a healthy life regardless of their economic circumstances. In turn, it is likely that public health crises would not disproportionately impact under-resourced individuals and communities and disparities in life expectancy among and within countries could be reduced or possibly eliminated.

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